SANDY, Utah – Like the rest of MLS' American representatives in the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League, Real Salt Lake will avoid any group-stage encounters with Mexican teams. But that doesn't mean their road to the knockout rounds will be any easier.
RSL learned Tuesday that they were placed in a three-team group with Costa Rica’s CS Herediano and Panama’s Tauro FC – the defending champions in their respective countries – for their draw in the CCL.
"It's a tough draw, for sure," said RSL defender Nat Borchers. "I know Herediano just won the Costa Rican championship this year and will be a very tough team to beat. And then playing in Panama is very, very difficult. We've been through this before. We are an experienced team and we just have to be mentally ready for those games. The away games will definitely be the toughest."
The tournament draw was a bit different this year, as CONCACAF changed the format by eliminating the preliminary round and reshaping the group stage to include eight three-team groups.
"We're pleased to have a new format that means less games," said Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis. "It's difficult to be playing our season, with the amount of travel we have, and then to have to travel to three other places. This year, with only having to travel twice should make things a little bit better."
Kreis was quick to note, however, that fewer games does not equate to a lesser challenge.
"The games become very, very critical,” he added. “There won't be any room for error."
While drawing the Costa Rican and Panamanian champions presents a formidable task, one positive to the draw is the fact that Real played in both those countries the last time they were in the Champions League, back in 2010-11.
"It could help," said Kreis. "It's always nice to go back somewhere you are a little bit familiar with. Hopefully, we may be able to sort it out so we can stay in the same hotels and train on the same fields."
RSL also knew going in that because of the new format they were guaranteed to have neither another MLS squad nor a team from Mexico, something that could either be a blessing or a curse.
"Anytime you are going to add in another top-tier team, so to speak, you have a little bit more of a chance to make mistakes along the way," said Kreis of knowing in advance some squads the team would avoid. "But I do think that with the way the system is set up, it is sort of similar because you really don't have any room to mess up or you will find yourself out quickly."
Real Salt Lake know they begin play sometime between July 31 and August 2, but the exact schedule will not be released until June 11. After their one-year hiatus, RSL are pleased to be back in the tournament they nearly won two years ago. They also know that with only the champion of the three-team group advancing, they need to be in top form.
"I think it just puts more pressure on every single game," said Borchers. "Every single point is going to be so important. There will be so much riding on every time you step out on the field, but I can't wait. I am very excited about it."